Why Are Some People Spineless?

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Spinelessness is simply another term for passive behavior. In trying to understand passive behavior, one must first acknowledge that there are several reasons why a person grows up to be a spineless adult. Just as aggressive and passive-aggressive behavior is an unhealthy method of communication, passive behavior can be just as damaging. When one is spineless, he lacks the ability to stand up for himself and others. This is not the ideal when it comes to preserving a strong sense of identity.


Some individuals are born with a mild and passive temperament, and it goes against their nature to be forthright and assertive. These people are typically introverted, shy and mild mannered. Their temperament has nothing to do with life experience or how they were trained. Assertiveness can be uncomfortable for the person with a passive temperament and they will do anything to escape what they perceive as confrontation. Individuals with a passive personality tend to display their anger in passive-aggressive methods that are indirect and sneaky.

Learned Passiveness

Individuals that grew up in homes where free expression and assertive behaviors were not acceptable, are more likely to be spineless, or nonassertive. After a certain length of time, and negative consequences for assertive behavior, assertive behaviors will be extinguished. In its wake, passive and spineless behavior takes root. If a daughter witnesses her mother taking a very passive role in the home, it is much more likely that the daughter will fall into passiveness regardless of natural temperament.

Reward Based Passiveness

Passiveness might be rewarded by parents and teachers early in a child’s life. Strong-willed children are difficult to handle in comparison to mild-mannered, spineless, nonassertive children. They are quiet and acquiescent, and rarely challenge others. Their consistently cooperative behavior is praised and rewarded. This behavioral reward system ends up creating nonassertive adults who find it difficult to stand their ground, stick up for themselves or go against the status quo. Their lack of assertion continues to be rewarded well into adulthood in the form of praise and reward. Unfortunately, the passive person makes an ideal target for bullies.

Fear Based Passiveness

Fear-based passiveness stems from the fear that one will be attacked, humiliated or harmed in some way because one chooses to stand their ground. Prior experiences that turned out badly can instill a sense of fear in those who have been bullied and mistreated as children or adults. If a child witnesses bullying, ridicule and other forms of abusive behavior in response to assertiveness, the passiveness is learned as a defense mechanism. Passive people have a fear of being blamed or held accountable.